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One of the more interesting characteristics of our human natures is the way in which vast, even centuries-long, debates can be carried on concerning matters that are entirely devoid of physical or natural objects. Philosophy is one such; theology is another: all items of common earthly existence—bodies, things, obstacles, tools, journeys, royal or papal writs—are, in such debates, simply names: metonyms for the abstractions that do the arguing, the theorizing, the struggling, and the examining in the discourse. (That persons were sometimes sent to very real deaths by fire or the axe for questioning the standing of a theological discourse doesn’t make the paper pages less abstract in content.)

Something similar (minus the auto-da-fé) seems to be happening among the government bodies and agencies that study the evidence of UAP (“Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”), the term that is replacing the older UFOs (“Unidentified Flying Objects”). In June of this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a “Preliminary Assessment” of the evidence for such phenomena, which was met with weeks of reporting from major news outlets—mainly spurred by simply the idea of a government report on UFOs, since the report itself, nine pages in total, is light on details. In particular, the report was meant to serve as an intelligence assessment of the threat posed by UAP, and provide an update on the progress the Department of Defense Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) has made in understanding this threat.

Are UAP a threat? Has that been determined? The authors of the report were clearly hindered by the fact that the discourse is about a set of things that (insofar as we know, anyway) investigators have never touched in actuality. Of all the questions that have been raised about what we mostly still call UFOs, the top-most question is: What are they? And the second-most comes on right after: Where have they come from? They are some sort of something that can’t (so far) be weighed, examined, dismantled, copied, or assigned a provenance. It seems impossible that the objects have any sort of earthly origin, and some can be shown to have no origin at all: a mere passing mirage or atmospheric oddity, a hoax or a hallucination. In fact, they may not be actual objects in the usual sense of the word, and therefore are not actually flying. It would be foolish to hold as a certainty that the unidentified phenomena are objects, though they’re almost always perceived to be objects; but there is no evidence that they have been proven to be solid or in any other way made of matter. We haven’t downed and examined one, or put a hand on one—unless we have, but haven’t been shown that we have.

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